Nelson, Ness place second, Gophers can’t overcome Penn State

Jared Christensen

A wild weekend for the Gophers wrestling team featured upsets, disappointments and avenged losses at the NCAA tournament.

Minnesota placed second when it was all said and done, racking up 104 team points and falling shy of Penn State’s 109.5 points.

The Gophers looked poised to win the competition, holding the team-score lead heading into the final round with two wrestlers competing for individual titles.

Still, neither two-time defending heavyweight champion Tony Nelson nor 157-pounder Dylan Ness was able to come away with a title.

That allowed Penn State to claw its way back and eventually edge out the Gophers for its fourth consecutive national title. 

Minnesota head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said he was proud of the fight his wrestlers put up throughout the tournament.

“I think our intensity was higher than any other team out there this weekend,” he said. “They wrestled with a lot of heart, and we couldn’t be more proud of that.”

Seven of the Gophers nine qualifying wrestlers earned All-America honors, with Ness and Nelson highlighting the bunch with second-place finishes.

Logan Storley and Scott Schiller each placed third, while Kevin Steinhaus and David Thorn finished fifth. Danny Zilverberg finished the tournament in seventh despite coming in as the No. 15 seed at 165 pounds.

On his way to the finals, Ness upset No. 1-seed James Green of Nebraska with a second-round pin in one of the tournament’s most exciting matches. Ness pinned his first three opponents during his miracle run to the title match.

Ness’ loss came to Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State, but the 157-pounder had nothing but respect for his opponent.

“[Dieringer]’s a tough competitor and a great wrestler, and he’s had a great year this year,” Ness said in a release.

While he didn’t make a run to the finals, Zilverberg’s All-America finish was an underdog story in itself. The 165-pounder entered the tournament as a No. 15 seed following his third-place finish at the Big Ten tournament earlier this month.

While Ness and Zilverberg outperformed their seeds, it wasn’t all good news for Minnesota.

In one of the tournament’s biggest upsets, No. 2-seeded Nick Dardanes lost his first-round match to unseeded Matthew Frisch to lose his shot at a title at 149 pounds. Dardanes then lost again in the consolation round and didn’t place in the tournament.

His brother Chris Dardanes was also eliminated from the tournament after just three matches despite entering as the No. 6 seed at 141 pounds.

Gophers head coach J Robinson said in a release that those losses had a special sting to them.

“We lost a couple of heartbreakers with the Dardanes boys,” Robinson said in a release.

The Gophers’ second-place finish is their third top-three placement in as many years.

Eggum said he’s excited to build on this year’s finish and keep working toward a national championship.

“These guys came to the University of Minnesota to wrestle for a championship,” he said. “We’re proud of their heart and energy this year, but we’ll be back for a title a year from now.”